Drug suspect avoids jail with a ticket out of the country

Steve Myrick

Adalberto Pires appeared in Edgartown District Court on Thursday, March 1, to face several charges that included possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Following a series of negotiated pleas, Mr. Pires, walked out of district court a free man.

The court sentenced Mr. Pires to three days in the Dukes County House of Correction. He was released because he had already served more than that amount of time while awaiting court appearances.

Mr. Pires gained his freedom, because he had a plane ticket back to his native Brazil and because of a legally faulty police search of his truck.

On February 10, Edgartown police arrested the 38-year old native of Brazil, under investigation by the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force since 2009, after they found a tennis ball containing cocaine in the back of his truck.

On three occasions the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has asked Dukes County jail officials to detain Mr. Pires, who came to the United States eight years ago and has remained in the country illegally.

At his hearing last week, Rob Moriarty, the attorney representing Mr. Pires, assured the court that Mr. Pires had made an agreement to voluntarily leave the country.

In discussions with the assistant district attorney before the hearing, Mr. Moriarty said he was also prepared to challenge the admission of the cocaine-filled tennis ball found in Mr. Pires’s truck without a search warrant.

Mr. Pires was scheduled to depart Martha’s Vineyard for a meeting with immigration authorities on Monday, March 5, and leave the U.S. the following day.

Reached by The Times Tuesday, Boston immigration attorney Annelise Araujo, who represented Mr. Pires in federal immigration court, would not confirm whether Mr. Pires left the country as scheduled. Ms. Araujo said that information is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Grinding justice

Just before Mr. Pires returned to Edgartown District Court on March 1, ICE notified clerk-magistrate Liza Williams that it had removed the latest detainee order issued for Mr. Pires.

A detainee order was in effect on February 8, when police arrested Mr. Pires on a charge of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. The order requires law enforcement to notify ICE and hold the suspect in custody for up to 48 hours. ICE lifted that detainer, because of the relatively minor nature of the offense and because Mr. Pires was already in legal proceedings that would result in his voluntary departure from the country, according to an ICE spokesman. Mr. Pires was released.

Two days later, police arrested Mr. Pires again, this time also on a charge of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. In a later search of his truck, a drug sniffing dog detected nine grams of cocaine hidden inside a tennis ball, according to police reports.

The Dukes County Sheriff’s Department noted a detainee order in effect at the time he was booked into jail for the second arrest, but that order never made it to court, and Mr. Pires was released on bail after his arraignment on the drug charge, on February 14.

ICE issued another detainee order when Mr. Pires appeared in court for a pre-trail hearing on February 21, but that hearing ended, and Mr. Pires left the courthouse before ICE could fax the order to the court.

Last Thursday, ICE lifted the latest detainee order, leaving the court with no authority to hold Mr. Pires in custody.

Last stop: court

Before Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Moriarty negotiated a plea agreement with Cape and Islands district attorney Laura Marshard.

In the first of the three cases pending, Mr. Pires agreed to plead guilty to a charge of possessing ammunition without a firearms identification card, and failure to return leased property.

Those charges stemmed from the search of a storage unit rented by Mr. Pires in Vineyard Haven. Among the items police found when executing a search warrant, was a shotgun shell, and some cable television equipment.

The court accepted the plea and sentenced Mr. Pires to serve three days in the Dukes County House of Correction. The court deemed the sentence served. He was also ordered to pay $50 in court costs.

During the storage unit search, police also seized a room full of merchandise, including thousands of dollars worth of tools and industrial paint sprayers. Mr. Pires disguised many of the tools inside gutted clothes dryers, crated and ready for shipment to Brazil, according to police. Despite an extensive investigation, police could find no evidence that Mr. Pires stole any of the equipment.

At Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Pires, through his attorney, asked the court to order police to return the property. The court granted that order.

In the second case, Mr. Pires was charged with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. As part of the plea agreement, the court dismissed that charge at the request of the Commonwealth.

In the third case, Mr. Pires faced a charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. As part of the plea agreement, the Commonwealth amended that charge to simple possession of cocaine.

Mr. Pires pleaded guilty to possession. The court sentenced him to three days in the house of corrections and deemed the sentence served.

Plea agreement

Ms. Marshard, representing the Commonwealth, said the guilty pleas are in the best interest of the Island community.

“We evaluate numerous factors when determining an appropriate plea agreement, including the strength of the evidence in each particular case,” Ms. Marshard said in an interview with The Times. “In this case, it was noteworthy that the defendant had reached an agreement with ICE to voluntarily leave the country immediately.”

Ms. Marshard said that pursuing the case might have delayed Mr. Pires’s departure. The prosecutor, police, and Mr. Pires all wanted to avoid such a delay.

Mr. Moriarty said that, had the case gone to trial, he was prepared to challenge the drug evidence seized by police.

“There was a problem with the use of the dog and the fact police didn’t get a search warrant for the vehicle,” Mr. Moriarty said in an interview. “That might have been one of the reasons the Commonwealth agreed to a disposition.”

Drug task force investigator and Edgartown police officer Mike Snowden said the decision to search the defendant’s truck without a warrant was a judgment call police face in nearly every drug investigation.

“It comes down to time,” Mr. Snowden said. He noted that Mr. Pires told them at the time of his arrest that he was leaving for Brazil in a few days, and that most of his possessions were packed and ready to ship.

“Is he going to get out of jail? Is he going to be moving?” Mr. Snowden said. “We might have lost the truck. We could have got a search warrant, but we weren’t looking at it that way.”

Both prosecutor and defense attorney were careful not to point fingers at police for the decision to search Mr. Pires’s vehicle and seize drug evidence.

“They’re making these decisions in the field, and at the time they didn’t really look at that,” Mr. Moriarty said.

Ms. Marshard said the result is that Mr. Pires is no longer in the community, and neither are the drugs. “To the credit of police, every time they seize drugs, the drugs are off the street, and out of the hands of our children and young people,” she said.